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Author Chris Spitale
Chris Spitale (Photo by Kumars Moghtader)

539. Winning the battle against disinformation

Many colleges and universities offer degrees in journalism and mass communications, as if the specialities that fall under “mass communications” are on the same level as reporting. 

Be wary of that, says Samuel “Chris” Spitale. The grouping together of fact-based journalism writing and research is not the same as advertising, marketing, public relations and other careers that are under the mass communications umbrella. 

“The last few years has made us realize how different they are,” he says. “Only journalism is really concerned with getting to the truth. The rest are trying to obscure it. We tend to have a narrow view of mass communications.” 

Spitale is the author of “How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths are Sold, Why They Stick and How to Reclaim Reality,” a book inspired in equal parts by trying to call attention to the difference between what’s journalism and what’s mass communication, and to highlight the way in which people can easily fall for bad information without realizing it. 

Like so many, Spitale points to the 2016 election as a turning point for him and his career. 

“There was so much BS during that election cycle and that year. It was so blatantly obvious — it was so obvious he was full of BS and nothing out of his mouth was true or accurate,” he says, referring to the former president. “It was all nonsense. After the election, the more I talked to friends and family back home in Louisiana, the more I realized people believed stuff that wasn’t true. Facts bounced off their barriers of belief. How far back do you have to step to help people see stuff?” 

There’s a difference between how we individually see the world and how the world actually works, he says: To a mouse, the whole world is a patch of grass, but the world is, in truth, much larger than that. 

The book also looks at the intersection of equality and socioeconomics. “The book starts off and focuses on a crash course in media literacy. That’s a lens I want the reader to see all these things through. I don’t feel as a society we differentiate media consumption from media literacy. They’re not the same things. We consume a ton of media. We’re bombarded by like 4,000 to 10,000 media messages a day, but it’s harder to determine what’s news and what’s entertainment.” 

Drawing the line between journalism and marketing, for example, is the difference between understanding the actual facts of the situation and believing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. 

“These were all ideas that did not exist until successful marketing campaigns came along and sold us these ideas,” he says. “I think it’s super helpful to recognize things we see each day and take for granted and identify them correctly. Until we can properly distinguish between them, everything might look like news when it’s not.” 

Author Samuel “Chris” Spitale talks to It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell the rise disinformation, the need for media literacy, and his new book: “How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths are Sold, Why They Stick and How to Reclaim Reality.”

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